What Feeds Your Soul?

Religion and politics don't mix. I'm sure you've heard the phrase before. And yet, Freedom of Religion is the first amendment to our Constitution. I don't believe it means you can't be religious and political but, you shouldn't force either onto others.

(photo by Barbara Hammond)

We're all entitled to our own beliefs and, for me, that's what makes America great. If you've read this blog before you probably know where I stand politically.

Religion and I have had an on-again, off-again history. Let me explain.

My grandfather was a Southern Baptist minister. I adored my grandfather and he adored me. He was the only male who was constant in my life growing up. Stepfathers came and went but, Granddaddy was always there.

When they started singing the hymn, "Just as I Am," he would put his big hand on my tiny shoulder and ask, "You been saved girl?" I would shake my head vigorously yes because there was no way I wanted to walk up that aisle and sacrifice my young soul.

Somehow faith and anger seem at odds to me still, yet we see it when religion and politics try to mingle. I'm no religious scholar by a long stretch but, if you believe in Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, (go ahead, look it up), or any other faith, hate is not a tenet.

Over the years, I've been exposed to several religions, including a crazy gymnastical snake worshipping holy roller service once. I know gymnastical isn't a word, but it describes the experience perfectly.

When I was five I lived with a lovely older couple who went to a Lutheran church. I found it to be very peaceful, unlike my other experiences.

At 16 my fourth stepfather, Scotty, introduced me to the Episcopal religion. He had a friend who was an Episcopal minister. He also introduced me to Dave, my future husband, who happened to be Episcopalian.

This all led up to our wacky and amazing wedding, which you can read about here.

With a young family and moving annually, we didn't go to church much early on. I remember going to an Episcopal church in Long Island at Easter and being totally turned off. It was big, beautiful and full to the max.

As we left and shook the minister's hand I asked what the regular congregation was like, knowing Easter is not a good barometer. He looked me up and down and said, "Wealthy. Very wealthy."

Sooo, we opted to never go back there again.

A year later we moved to New Jersey and found a church we liked. The minister was nice and had a young family. I joined their play group for the kids and enjoyed being with other young mothers. But annual moves made it hard to get attached to any church so we rarely went after that.

By the time we landed in Massachusetts it had been a few years since we'd attended church. Feeling the urge to give it a try we went to an Easter service in a neighboring town. Our oldest, Jeff, was in fifth grade then and didn't have much experience with church. Our bad.

Toward the end of the service, the minister invited the kids to come and take an Easter plant. I felt he was referring to the Sunday School kids who had planted them, so when Jeff, started to go up I stopped him and said, "We're not members here, I don't think you should go."

As we were leaving his teacher recognized him and asked why he didn't have a plant. He said, "I can't. We're not joiners." I was mortified and began rushing him out the door. We laugh about it now but, it was our fault our kids had no spiritual direction. Which is not funny. Dave and I had opposite experiences with religion but, we had experiences. Our kids did not.

Fast forward about 30 years to our introduction to Gloria Dei, Old Swedes, in Philadelphia.

(art by Barbara Hammond)

The irony of our introduction to this church is it came through our youngest son, Greg, who is totally agnostic. He knew the minister's son and was invited to direct the Easter play.

I went up to watch a rehearsal and met some of the members. When I was introduced to a lovely woman I reached to shake her hand and she opened her arms and said, "We hug here!" It was welcoming.

It's a beautiful old building over 300 years old. I'm a sucker for historical buildings and, the vibe in this one was ethereal. It drew me in.

After Dave's near death experience with lymphoma, we started going to Old Swede's fairly regularly. Facing death head on has a way of making you look at life in a new light.

I remember one particular sermon that resonated with me and as we left I shook the minister's hand and said, "I really enjoyed that."

"Well," he said, "I try not to preach."

We knew this was the church for us and, even though I didn't go as often as Dave it holds a special place in my soul.

When the minister retired I wasn't sure I would like it as much. They went through a long vetting process and finally chose a woman to replace him.

It was hard for many of the parishioners who had been lifelong members to accept someone else. I understood that. Change is hard and when it involves your spirituality it involves soul searching.

It took me a while to warm up to her, I'll admit. When you finally find a church you feel comfortable with and the leadership changes it creates some anxiety.

She has been there for 15 years now. And, even though we are two hours away, we go back whenever we can. We haven't found a church we feel comfortable in here, yet. We'll keep exploring but, honestly, Old Swede's will always be my spiritual home.

Where do you stand on religion and spirituality?

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